•Tale of family of bone setters
Josfyn Uba; Sunday Ani
A six-year-old girl, Marvelous, from Abuja, is among several patients currently undergoing treatment at a traditional bone-setting facility at Oda quarters in Onicha Olona, Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State.
According to investigations by Daily Sun, the little girl had a simple fracture in the arm while playing with her mates when she was just four years old. Through wrong treatment, she has had to endure pain for the last two years with her left arm supported by a sling.
Today, her story and that of many other people is different as they are being treated by the Ideabana Ajumuka family, renowned for their skill and dexterity in traditional bone-setting procedure
The duo of Josfyn Uba and Sunday Ani, who witnessed the bone setting session, report that, if nothing is done to preserve what is left of this great heritage, it might be lost to urban migration. They spoke to the two brothers and some patients:
Tell us about yourself…
My name is Okafor Otekenubia Ajumuka. I am a descendant of the original owner and initiator of the bone-setting business, Idebabana Ajumuka. This business is a family inheritance. We inherited it from him as it was also handed down to him. The process is exclusively family-oriented. It is not a business that outsiders can come to learn. It is the family inheritance.
It has been going on from generation to generation. As our children grow, they watch and learn the rudiments. They start by following us to pick up the herbs, roots and other items necessary for treatment. From there, they start trying their hands on the main procedure. Over time, they begin to perfect the art, which becomes a way of life.
How old are you?
I am 65 years old.
How long have you been doing this?
I have been setting bones for over 40 years. I inherited it from my father. In Onicha Olona here, we are the only family known to do this job. Over the years, we have helped many people get back their lives again after major fracture. Bone-setting is entirely our family business.
Do you have outsiders that help out or who work with you?
No, it is only for members of our family.
What are the types of cases that you treat here?
We have had many cases, all different from each other. We handle cases of multiple fractures from accidents, compound fractures in any part of the human body.
The dynamics of what we do is very intricate and, without sounding immodest, we have recorded success even beyond our imagination. Sometimes, families bring their relatives here with crucial cases that look hopeless, but they have always gone home happily.
Given modern lifestyles, do you give patients injection to prevent pain or place them under any kind of anesthesia before commencing treatment?
No, I don’t give any injection. Our mode of treatment is strictly rooted in traditional ways. I use herbs and roots as handed down to us by our forefathers. Although in recent times when I see the need for injection, either to relieve pains or whatever for the patient, I would employ the services of a nurse to help. That is how we do it. We don’t actually go out of our way to give any type of injection in conjunction with our treatment.
How do you set broken bones? Is it true that you would have to break the leg of a chicken before treatment begins?
No, that is an old method. It was a method used in the olden days by our fathers and it also had its own traditional link and efficacy. Today, things have changed tremendously and we also change with time.
During the days of the founding fathers of this business, they would break a cock’s leg before they start setting the person’s bone. It was their traditional religious belief. Don’t forget that Africans had their traditional religion before the white man came. Since that was their belief, they would start setting the person’s bone at the same time with that of the fowl and as the cock’s leg is healed and corrected, the patient’s leg or hand is also healed and corrected. It was an art and tactics that worked for them. But that system no longer obtains. We have modernised the system. We just treat our patients without that mode.
We understand that, in those days, your people consulted fortune tellers to find out why certain bones were difficult to set. Do you still do that?
That was in those days, before we came into the system, because, since I knew my own father who handed it over to me directly, he never consulted any soothsayer to know why certain bones proved difficult to set. We just treat our patients. In our own case today, we don’t do consultations of any type. We are Christians but we also believe in the efficacy of our heritage. These herbs and roots are God’s perfect creation. We have used them in the process of healing and mending broken bones, to the glory of God and the benefit of humanity. No patient has been brought here and gone back the same way he came. We have indirect referrals from hospitals of serious accident cases and when they come here, we treat them successfully.
This bone-setting job is an age-long business and a family tradition. Patients come from far and wide. And irrespective of people’s socio-political status, they seek us for treatment. We have treated some highly-placed people in society. Our patients cut across all strata of society.
How long does it take to treat a patient who has a broken bone?
It depends on the type of fracture and the time the patient is brought in here. Some people will spend three months while others will spend six months before the bone is completely set to its original position. It also depends on the healing process of each individual’s body system. But again, healing process is faster when the case is fresh. It takes longer period for cases that have been tampered with over time to mend and heal.
Do you conduct x-ray to know the extent of bone damage?
We are not medical practitioners and so do not have what it takes to do that. I make bold to say that, over decades, we have successfully treated our patients but one thing is clear: We don’t delve into medical areas. We are essentially traditional bone-setters. We do not conduct any medical examination. However, it is imperative for patients who have been to the hospital to bring along the result of their X-ray. The result aids our work. We know the bone structures and where they are in the body, so it is easy to ascertain what has happened in each case.
Who reads and interprets the x-ray for you since you are not educated?
Once I see the X-ray, I can interpret it. If I just touch the bone, I know where the problem lies.
Do you have nurses?
No, we don’t have any nurse or medic in our employment because, like I said earlier, we do not employ people who work here. It is a generational business. Nonetheless, we could invite a nurse, if need be, to help administer injection on a patient to relieve him of severe pain. We also recommend some pain-relieving tablets to aid the healing process.
So, you work in conjunction with modern medical workers?
Yes, we work in conjunction with some nurses, who help to administer injections to our patients.
If you have a case of a broken hand that has lasted a long time before it was referred to you and a fresh case, which one heals faster?
The hardest cases are those ones that have lasted for four years or more before they bring them to us. The fresh cases are very easy to handle.
In the last 40 years, can you tell us the hardest or the toughest case you have handled?
I have said earlier that the ones that are always tough are those cases that have lasted for four years and above before coming to us.
Give one example?
It is God that helps us to do the work. So, I cannot say that this particular one was the toughest because it is only God that heals through us.
How did you learn it?
It was from our father. He would tell me what to do and, if I failed, he would personally show me what I ought to have done. And that was how I learnt it. He would show me some leaves, herbs and roots necessary for the job. He used to send us out to collect them from the bush.
Have you won any award?
Yes, we have several won awards.
Has government not approached you with a view to attaching you to a hospital?
That is what we are praying for. If we have an opportunity from anybody that will get us attached to a hospital, we would like to collaborate, and work with them. But since we haven’t got such an opportunity, we have continued to practice our art in our own local way.
How many patients do you have at a time and when do you normally have many patients?
The time differs but the influx of patient is high here. Currently, we have about five patients. As we treat and they get well, they are discharged. They come from different places, even as far as from Asaba. We are known in the whole of our local government and beyond. If you ask after the bone-setters of Onicha Olona, they will bring you straight to this place.
Has there been a time you were invited to a hospital to render orthopedic assistance?
My brother who lives in Lagos used to get such invitations from hospitals over there, but here, we have never been invited by any hospital for such assistance. In some instances, patients who have spent time in orthopedic hospitals are referred here by family or friends.
Have you recorded any death here?
No, we have never recorded any case of death arising from bone-setting challenge. Patients come here in pain and go home in utmost joy.
Is there any of your children interested in this job now?
No, there is none. They have all gone out to different places. You know, because of urban migration, it is difficult to have them around now. They live and work in different places in search of a better life and opportunities. There is nobody at home with me.
If there is none of your children doing this with you now, how will this business continue after you are gone?
Well, for now, I do it with my brother, who lives in Lagos. I can’t say what the future holds for this great heritage but, for now, I and my brother, who is based in Lagos, are doing our best to keep the legacy on.
We can see that you have a house to accommodate your patients. Can you tell us about it?
It was our family house, which has been converted to serve as a ward for patients. We have four rooms in all. We have beds, a kitchen and other facilities to help them cope for the period of their stay here. At some point, the rooms would not be enough to accommodate them. So, we used to plead with our relatives whose houses are near us to help accommodate them. That is how busy we can be.
What are the other facilities?
We have crutches and wheelchairs to aid movement as they progress in their healing process. My brother in Lagos brings them for me.
Samuel Ofiaju Ajumuka
Could you let us into your background?
My name is Samuel Ofiaju Ajumuka. I am 47 years old. I am from Oda quarters in Onicha Olona in Aniocha Local Government Area, Delta State. I specialise in the business of bone-setting.
How did you come into this business?
It is an inheritance from our forefathers. My late father, who inherited the skill, also handed it over to us. It is our family heritage. From when I was a little boy, I watched my father in his daily business of tending to patients with broken and fractured bones. He mended them with such dexterity and passion. He was so committed to the cause of helping patients get back on their feet again. So, whenever patients were brought in, he would give me instructions on what to do. Sometimes, I would accompany him to the bush, where he picked different items for the purpose. This art is exclusive to only members of my family. As I grew up, he would also send me to pick up herbs and other items necessary for the exercise and I became proficient such that even before he died, I was working with him. I have not looked back since then.
Why did you leave the family heritage that was handed down to you for Lagos?
After my secondary school education, like every other young man of my age, I came over to Lagos in search of greener pastures. I have been here for some years now with my wife and children.
Are you still engaged in the job?
Yes, I am very engaged in it. I treat patients here in Lagos but, most of the time I am called from home to attend to some crucial cases. People are referred to me from various places. Sometimes, I could spend as long as two months in the village depending on the nature of the case. I have had to treat a certain politician who was shot in the leg during the last elections. People troop into my place in the village such that we have had to rent places for their accommodation.
For such a great heritage to be left at the risk of extinction because of urban migration, do you think your forefathers would be happy that you have abandoned your inheritance?
Certainly, I don’t think they would be happy. I am also not happy, having left the place. I feel that my late father is not happy about it.
Do you have plans to return to the village in continuation of the age-long tradition?
Definitely, I have it in view to relocate because I have found out that whenever I am home, patients troop into the place for treatment.
Why do you think so?
My brother in the village is getting old. He is the only one practicing it in the village. Whenever I am around, it is evident two of us would be better than just one person. I feel so bad that I seem to have left it and two heads, they say, are always better than one. I have been in Lagos and, with my exposure, I can add it to the knowledge I have had and we can do better.
When do you plan to relocate?
I intend to go back to the village as soon as my kids are out of school and become independent. I don’t want to take them home to continue their education in the village. They are the ones holding me back here. I sincerely want to go back to my roots and continue with what my father left for me.
Do you regret being in Lagos?
Not much of regret but, most times, I feel the urge to relocate. I need to go back and face it full-time.
While you are here in Lagos, do you work in collaboration with any hospital?
No, I do not. What people who know me do is that they refer patients to me after their discharge from the hospital, especially in cases that were thought to be very difficult and have taken long.
Can you recall cases you have treated in that regard?
There are several cases where the patient’s limb was to be amputated and I took over. With our traditional treatment, the patient was healed. I have lost count of the cases but the beauty of what we do is that no patient has ever left the same way he came. It’s a legacy of success. It’s been the special grace of God. There is no case of fracture, no matter how complicated it may be, that we have not handled successfully.
Do you see any of your children following in your footsteps?
Yes, the last two of my children are showing considerable interest. They watch me while I treat patients. Most of the time too, I take them on “mock exercise” of bone-setting and alignment.